Thursday, May 31, 2007

Music to Hover Your Junk Over

So music has been very very good to us in 2007, but it's been a bumpy ride the last several weeks. Bjork's album disappointed, then Wilco's basically did too (Geoff, where's your freakin' review already?!) and last week we learned that the already rescheduled Innocence Mission show at Southpaw had been cancelled.

Then along comes The National.

Boxer is yet another album that is making our ears happy to be alive. We downloaded the first track, Fake Empire, from Idolator quite awhile ago and after a few listens realized that the album proper was worthy of a release-date purchase.

And, as you can see by the fact that we've affixed an album sticker to our bike, it was worth it. Yet another album that we see finishing in our top 5 this year, although how we'll fit a dozen albums in the top 5 remains a mystery.

Boxer is very much about becoming an adult, sacrificing your social life for the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Mistaken for Strangers, the second track, sums up the message of much of the album pretty well, although it's a bit rockier than some of the better tracks: "Showered and blue-blazered, fill yourself with quarters/you get mistaken for strangers by your own friends/when you pass them at night under the silvery, silvery Citibank lights".

Green Gloves, Jen's favorite, builds on the leaving your old friends behind theme with the opening stanza, "Falling out of touch with all my/friends are somewhere getting wasted/hope they're staying glued together/I have arms for them", while Squalor Victoria ("I'm a professional in my beloved white shirt") and RIB's favorite track, Start a War ("I'll get money, I'll get funny again/walk away now/and you're gonna start a war") further develop the album's financial issues.

But since we don't want this whole blog entry to be about regurgitating lyrics, we'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say the songs, besides being smart - and relevant to our age group here at RIB - are gorgeous, haunting and definitely worth prime sticker real estate. Released: May 22. MONEY

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tori Amos' American Doll Posse: Breaking Down Which Tracks are Worthwhile - and Which are Worthless

As you read here a week or so ago, Tori Amos has released her best album in years. True, that's not saying much, but we have to give credit where credit is due: If you are a lapsed Toriphile, American Doll Posse should get you back on track. I never expected to own another one of her albums, or post gushingly about her again, but here I am.

Still, it's 23 tracks long. By RIB's count, that's at least nine too many. So while we certainly recommend that you pick it up, we figured we'd provide this handy breakdown of what's worth keeping and what you're better off trashing -- and a few we haven't decided on yet (note that we've left out references to the album's various "characters" and which songs "they" sing, because, frankly, it's a ridiculous conceit that only contributes to the album's unwieldiness):

1. Yo George. This is a not-very-subtle dig at George W. Bush which asks the pertinent, but heavy-handed, questions: "Where have we gone wrong, America?" and "Is this just the madness of King George?". I'm keeping it for now, because it's pretty, but it might not last. Better as a decent b-side than an uninspiring album opener. STATUS PENDING.

2. Big Wheel. Great, great song. Upbeat, a bit country but not too much, and about 2/3 of the way in, Tori declares, "I'm an M-I-L-F, don't you forget." KEEP.

3. Bouncing Off Clouds. Like a Kate Bush song Kate Bush never recorded, in a Running Up That Hill vein. Fantastic. KEEP.

4. Teenage Hustling. This has had us singing "I'm at your door, I'm at your door, I'm at your do-o-or" repeatedly in our shower, which opens us up for a lot of snarky criticisms, but we're very confortable with both our musical taste and our sexuality. KEEP.

5. Digital Ghost. This is the first track where the annoying side of Tori starts to come out. It seems to be packed with lame technology double entendres, including "I am not immune to your net". But I don't hate it enough to trash it yet. STATUS PENDING.

6. You Can Bring Your Dog. In which Tori compares herself and others to pets, with a boring roadhouse rock band backbeat. DELETE.

7. Mr. Bad Man. Starts off like it's going to be a Herman's Hermits greatest hit. But "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" is a lyrical masterpiece compared to lines like "The bad man made her cry". DELETE.

8. Fat Slut. All I can say is thank God it's only 41 seconds long. DELETE.

9. Girl Disappearing. Okay, we're back on track here. The lyrics are pretty blah, but the piano and the music are worth the ride. KEEP.

10. Secret Spell. Reminds me of solo Stevie Nicks. But better. Will I wake up in a cold sweat one night, needing to hear Secret Spell and nothing else? No. But I like it. KEEP.

11. Devils and Gods. Another short one, clocking in at 53 seconds. Not long enough to be much of anything, but at least it doesn't suck like Fat Slut. Would have been better as a little hidden bit at the end of another track. KEEP.

12. Body and Soul. The song starts and I think to myself, "I don't really like most of the Y Can't Tori Read throwback stuff." Then the chorus kicks in and I'm singing along. Could see this as a single, although there are better choices. KEEP.

13. Father's Son. Could be a track from Boys For Pele. And since that is by far her best album, IMO, that is saying a lot. KEEP.

14. Programmable Soda. This song is total nonsense, but so was Mister Zebra. It's not as good, but, like Zebra, this is fun. And at 1:25, it doesn't have quite enough time to wear out its welcome. KEEP.

15. Code Red. I'm sorry Tori, but THIS IS THE FIFTEENTH TRACK. I am already not in the mood for you anymore. I don't even care if this is a good song or not at this point. But since I've undertaken the task of listening to the whole thing, I will have to be fair to Code Red. Which is really not that great of a song. DELETE.

16. Roosterspur Bridge. Zzzzzzz. DELETE.

17. Beauty of Speed. Okay, you've won me back with the opening drum/piano stuff...yes...yes, the spirit of Kate Bush rejoins us on track 17. Good stuff. KEEP.

18. Almost Rosey. Poor lyrics, lackluster performance. More dull than anything else. DELETE

19. Velvet Revolution. As a former resident of Prague, I was hoping for something else. I guess "something more" would be appropriate too. DELETE.

20. Dark Side of the Sun. Tori's version of Blowin' in the Wind-meets-Big Yellow Taxi, anyone? Not good. DELETE.

21. Posse Bonus. As this is track No. 21, don't you think we've had enough Posse bonuses? I could have stomached this better earlier in this sitting. On second though, nah. DELETE.

22. Smokey Joe. Can't quite make heads or tails of this song yet, which appears to be about revenge. But it seems to work and I will return to it. KEEP.

23. Dragon. Nice, dark keyboard and piano. The lovely chorus is "stay awhile, stay awhile, stay a-whi-le" - but how much better would that sound if this was track 11? KEEP.

CONCLUSION: Tori Amos needs an editor. American Doll Posse would have been perfect at about 11 or 12 tracks. As is, there's a whole lot of crap to float through to get to the chewy cookie center. Worth it though - especially now that we've got it all sorted out.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bjork's Dull Flame

I've been holding off on this post for a couple weeks, because I didn't want to have to type what I am now going to type:

The new Bjork album just isn't that good.

Volta isn't terrible, mind you. I like Innocence when it's not giving me a headache, the Antony duets are strong enough and I See Who You Are is a mostly good example of the recent spate of songs about lovers dying and, presumably, burying eachother (see Iron & Wine's Naked as We Came or Wilco's new On and On and On or, well, pick any Decemberists song). But the latter, like many songs on this album, never takes off. Where are the hooks?

I am so not a "where are the hooks?" kind of guy, but when you make an album with Timbaland that has several songs based on very hard beats - Declare Independence is Industrial Rock, for Chrissake - you expect to want to maybe, at least once, if only for a minute, get out of your seat and dance. Or maybe even just bop your head.

But Bjork isn't having it.

I guess maybe I tapped my toes once or twice for Earth Intruders, but the production - I can't believe I'm saying this about a Bjork album - is kind of murky and the beats don't get the chance to beat your brains around a bit. Even her quirky English issues - I think she means Earth Intruders as some kind of return-to-the-soil revolutionary guerilla force, not space aliens - annoys me here. And why does it end with a minute-and-a-half of foghorns?

My favorite track on the album is The Dull Flame of Desire - Bjork and Antony have two of my favorite voices in the world - but I'm still trying to understand why the song had to last seven-and-a-half minutes when there are only 10 lines to the lyric. Like Declare Independence, it starts off with such great promise, then just plods along, with peaks that just aren't majestic enough. In the case of Dull Flame, the high points are the highest on Volta, but if I'm within reach of my mouse, there's little chance I'm making it all the way through.

I do love the high school band horns on this album, and I hold out hope that Bjork will sneak up on me with this one. But I expected it to put her earlier albums to sleep for awhile and, instead, it's only making me appreciate them more. Released: May 8. UNNECESSARY VOODOO.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Feist on a Bus

Hat tip to The Yellow Stereo.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Records I Buy (Catch-Up Edition)

There are numerous reasons why I haven't posted in ages - from the usual (laziness) to the unusual (click here for details) to the hopefully never again (oral surgery, followed by a week of walking death after a terrible reaction to the anasthesia) - but I've also been busy picking up and listening to a lot of new albums. So before the new Bjork comes out and throws some of these on the backburner, I figured it was time to give them some quality blog time.

Shearwater - Palo Santo (Expanded Edition)

Shearwater's Palo Santo finished second in last year's Album of the Year countdown, and it would likely have won had it not been for the fact that I HATED the production. When it was soft, it'd be too soft, so you'd blast the volume and the loud parts would rip your ears off. And although the album has a dark, murky feel to it, the production was just a bit too, well, dark and murky.

Apparently Shearwater felt the same way, because, after signing a new deal with Matador records, they've re-released the album, with five tracks completely recorded, the rest remixed, new packaging and a bonus disc with new tracks and demos.





Just about every problem I had with the original version has been fixed and the songs have improved from muted, almost-epics, to clear, ringing full-fledged epics. The old "Hail, Mary" was one of my favorite songs - it rocked, but also seemed a bit held-back. This one soars, ending with a lengthened, now-breathtaking jam session that really pops. The new opening drumbeat of "Red Sea, Black Sea" is a call to arms and the banjo is luscious.

Shearwater's new-and-improved Palo Santo owns the original, and the bonus tracks are great, too. If you didn't pick this one up last year, now's the time. Released: April 10. ESSENTIAL

Shearwater - Red Sea, Black Sea (New Version) [mp3 via Pitchfork]

Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha

So with the new-and-improved Shearwater and Neon Bible burning a hole in my iPod, you'd think Andrew Bird would get short shrift. Not so. Despite those two albums, I keep going back, time and time again, to Armchair Apocrypha.

This is going to be one of my favorites when 2007 is all said and done.

It doesn't quite catch you on first listen, but several of these songs - Fiery Crash, Plasticities, Heretics and Simple X, for example - are already old friends. Days have passed where I sang nothing in my head but "Thank God it's fatal, thank God it's fatal..." over and over again.

And his whistling! This one's a real gem. Released: March 20. PRECIOUS TERRITORY

Feist - The Reminder

Okay, the rest of the albums on this list have been getting short shrift, to various degrees and for various reasons.

Feist is an undeserving victim of the Shearwater-Arcade Fire-Andrew Bird triumvirate, as her new album seems great. "My Moon, My Man" has been known to poke "Heretics" out of my head at times, although my version goes "My moon, my man, my bah-doo-be-doo-doo", which tells you a lot about how many times I've listened to this one so far. But it will get the attention it deserves soon enough. Released: May 1. BAH-DOO-BE-DOO-DOO

Tori Amos - American Doll Posse

A lot of the songs are total crap and will be deleted very soon. But the good ones are really good. Who would have thought?

I lost interest in Tori a long time ago (she peaked with Boys for Pele, and everything since has been a let down), but songs like "Big Wheel", a country rock number in which Tori declares herself a MILF, and Teenage Hustling, featuring an irresistable "I'm at your door, I'm at your door" refrain, are the best Tori songs I've heard since my days as a Toriphile. These two alone are worth it; the others have yet to get final judgement. Some seem like they could be keepers ("Father's Son" is on now and I'm digging it), but a lot of the time I find my cursor hovering over 'send to trash'... Released: May 1. MILF

Bright Eyes - Cassadaga

One that is being ignored as well, but is most likely to collect dust.

I liked I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning but I was hesitant to buy this because I find him a bit too precious. I got it anyway and regretted it from the first track, which begins with Revolution 9-like orchestral music and a talking woman, and features the cringe-inducing line "get your revolution at a lower price". I do like "Four Winds", though, and it's always great to hear Gillian Welch (she sings backing vocals on "Classic Cars") so maybe I'll buy into this one down the road. Maybe. Released: April 10. I'M FALLING ASLEEP, IT'S EVENING

Various Artists - A Tribute to Joni Mitchell

Was thinking about buying it, then found it in the free bin at work. What a steal.

Unfortunately, it's not really that great. The Sufjan and Bjork offerings are good - you knew I'd say that, but they really are, especially Sufjan's mad-genius version of "A Free Man in Paris" - but Prince sounds like a parody of himself and most of the rest I'll probably never listen to again - why bother when I already have the originals?

And why does the picture of Joni on the cover make it look like she's dead? It's a tribute, not a memorial. Released: April 24. BLUE

The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

*Snore* Released: January 23. SNORE